Tientrich travels to Sandpoint with a merchant and his guards.
The merchant Pais checked once more over the wagons and beasts that had pulled them, making sure the night’s camp was all in order. The small clearing he had chosen to make camp was only a short distance upslope on the western side of the road, but to go any further would mean taking the team up into the hills, which would have taken far too long and run the risk of exhausting the oxen or breaking wheels or axles on the wagons. All of which he had learned from previous experience.
Of course his true preference would have been to make Sandpoint before nightfall, but one delay after another since leaving Magnimar had left him still ten miles shy of his destination, and aside from the risks of travelling through the night the animals needed rest. And he wasn’t really that concerned, he told himself.
His gaze followed the long finger of his shadow that the setting sun stretched out eastward, falling on the tops of the trees that were painted golden by its last rays just a couple of hundred yards to the east. Anything below the canopy was already in darkness. He shivered. The Whisperwood had never been threatening in the past, but lately there had been too many reports of unseasonal mists and strange lights in the darkness for him to feel comfortable, despite having seen little of note himself.
Heading back through the arc of wagons to the camp on the far side, he was cheered by the sight of the fire that was already crackling merrily away, where his teamster had a pot of something already beginning to warm for dinner. He took a seat in the circle that had formed around the fire and awaited his meal.
The fire had died down, but still had far more life than the conversation among Pais’ travelling companions. He made a habit of picking up strays on his trips, promoting the value of safety in numbers and hence garnering himself such at no cost, but this bunch were pretty miserable. The guard he had hired (at far less than he should have asked for- the desperately broke always made for affordable employees) was jovial enough and had made several attempts to engage the others, but to no avail. There was something strange about the one in the long leather coat (in this weather!), and even though he seemed to sit himself in the shadows his presence still seemed to reach out across the gathering. Hardly a word said though. And surely there was no shortage (pardon the pun) of things to talk about, with a gnome of all things in the group! But they all seemed content to just sit in silence. All? That’s right, there was one more, as nondescript as the other two were...er...descript, so much so that he kept forgetting about him. Even now, with his face half illuminated by the fire, he struggled to remember exactly what he looked like.
Anyway, he would be glad when he reached Sandpoint and could be rid of them.
Glancing back in the direction of the forest, Pais was startled almost into needing a clean pair of pants by the sight of another figure leaning against the side of one of the wagons, naked blade painted red by the fire. Relief struck at the same moment as realisation. Sure, it was another damned weirdo in his camp, but at least he knew this one. Well, a little anyway.
He walked over to the man, who stood with what looked like a five-foot branch propped against the ground, while he used the knife to carefully carve away small shavings of wood from the other end. The tiny symbols extended only a few inches from the end, not much further than last time he had seen him several months back, and appeared a fairly uniform repeated pattern. The other end of the branch had another block of wood, of some other type by the much lighter colour, apparently stuck to it. Pais knew from last time he saw the man that that block was hollow, and was merely a cap for the leaf-shaped blade on the end of the spear. At least he assumed it was a spear; he didn’t know how functional the damned thing would be with all the twists and kinks along its length, although he had to admit that it did follow a path that seemed to be balanced around a central straight line. He thought about asking about the different types of wood- perhaps the cap was softer or something- but then remembered the last time he had asked a question about plants. He wasn’t ready to nod off to sleep just yet.
He stood for a moment, watching the druid in profile as he continued to work on his carving. He was pleased he had approached from the man’s right side, he found it a little less disconcerting. From this side he seemed just a normal (albeit very tall and wiry) man in his mid-twenties, golden brown hair shining dully in the firelight as it fell messily to his shoulder. His garb was no doubt strange, wearing glossy brown-black armour that appeared to me made of some kind of lizard scales, and wearing a cloak of feathers and fur. His garb was otherwise rather mundane leathers of green, brown and grey (he thought, the firelight made colours a little hard to discern accurately) the strangest thing being that the buckles and such were all horn or bone rather than metal. Some kind of bone or ivory fetish hung on a leather strap around his neck.
With no acknowledgement forthcoming, Pais decided to break the silence.
“You don’t seem to be making much progress there.”
The druid looked up from his work, pupils shrinking rapidly as he looked toward the firelight. Pais had forgotten how freaky his eyes looked at night, becoming pools of blackness as the pupils expanded out to swallow almost all of the colour around them. Having said that, they freaked him out just as much during daylight hours, the bright amber colour making him feel like he was being watched by some kind of hawk.
Of course, his eyes were not the only disconcerting thing about him now that he was facing him. The other reminder to his elven ancestry was now apparent, the point of his left ear not hidden as only a few wisps of hair grew below his left temple. And spreading down from there the whole left side of his face and neck displayed tracks of shiny scar tissue in the firelight, disappearing under his shirt and extending who knew how much further. It was not that this scarring was particularly hideous (Pais had once seen a man who had had an oil lamp smashed over his face, and the burned, scarred mass that has left behind was truly repulsive), more that is was incredibly strange, an intricate pattern spreading like the branches and leaves of a tree. He had discussed it with a fellow traveller last trip and the most realistic possibility they had come up with (realistic not including theories of strange tentacled monsters and the like) was that it was some kind of tattooing done with a hot wire, but he still doubted whether anyone could sit still through that. He wasn’t about to ask.
“Same progress I make every day.” he replied “What I carve just reflects what I’ve done for the day. I can’t see the future, so have to wait until the next day to keep carving.”
“So what does today say?”
“Mostly that I walked.”
“Hmmph.” The merchant snorted “It all looks the same to me.”
“I do a lot of walking.” The man replied simply, with the hint of a smile, and a quick shrug. Actually, not a shrug at all, the merchant realised, but one of the seemingly involuntary spasms that erratically hit the man’s left arm when he wasn’t focused on doing anything with it.
Looking at his hand he realised for the first time that the scarring extended all the way down here, becoming harder to see at the fingers, which were all stained darkly, probably from leaves and berries and whatnot he supposed.
“So, you coming into Sandpoint with us Twitch?”
“Tientrich.” The druid corrected with a hint of annoyance.
“Whatever, no one can pronounce your weird elf-names around here. Are you coming with us or not?”
The truth was Tientrich was the name he had been given when he became a druid, and was not elvish at all, but he couldn’t be bothered correcting the merchant.
“I have a few hides to bring in to the tannery, so I thought I may as well walk in with you.”
“I thought you lot were supposed to be friends with nature and all that. Should you be killing animals?”
Pais instantly wished he had not asked the question, given the lecture he received in response. He had of course vagued out through most of it, but picked up something about taking only what was needed, and old animals, and blood stew, and not being wasteful, and following the natural order of things, and blah, blah, blah.
“Nature does not care.” He finished “It has no friends.”
“Well, because you’re only travelling half a day with us I’ll only charge you a few silvers for our company.”
“Then I’ll walk on alone and you can rely on that lot over there to protect you from the perils of the Whisperwood tonight.”
There were, of course, no perils whatsoever in the Whisperwood beyond the occasional bear or falling branch; the mists, lights and other rumours having been caused by Tientrich himself. He had been sent down to this part of the world by the druids’ council in Mierani Forest as there were rumours of strange happenings here. He had yet to find any evidence of such, but had noticed the encroachment of farmland into the northern Whisperwood, and had decided to gently steer the locals away. There was little enough woodland here, the large forests of Varisia being located east and north, and he would protect it as he could.
Not that he had found too much to be upset by around Sandpoint. The locals were generally quite open, and surprisingly tolerant of his half-elven heritage. More so in fact than had been the elves of Mierani Forest. And while he couldn’t say he had formed any friendships with the denizens, he did have a few occasional acquaintances. There was the tanner Larz to whom he sold the occasional hides he had cheaply, and who had made him his armour in the style of the Shoanti people from who he originated, and the weaponsmith Sevah who made his spearheads.
And of course Pais, who he occasionally joined for these walks into town. And while the man was a bit greedy, he was generally good-natured, and Tientrich did enjoy the occasional company outside his forest. Some of his fellow druids, he knew, formed close friendships with animal companions and shunned human contact, but Tientrich himself had found little reward in trying to do so.
“Well, I suppose your tagging along couldn’t hurt. I’ll waive the fee, but you have to supply your own food.” Pais conceded.
“Not a problem. If you like I can even cook up a stew for you and your other companions.” Tientrich gestures to the old pot hangning from his backpack.
“Sadly, we’ve already eaten.” Pais had taken up the druid on this offer last time, and had no intention of doing so again. It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with the stew (though he suspected the strongly herby flavour concealed all manner of ills), more that he was not sure that much of what had been in it was something he would generally regard as edible. And having endured the earlier lecture he was now more certain of that than before.
“Anyway, I’d best get back to those others. Feel free to join us at the fire of you like Twitch, but you’d probably best rest up soon, I plan to head off early.”
Tientrich instead sat where he was, back resting against the wagon, and soon fell asleep.